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“When hope fades, cynicism is often waiting in the wings. And this is indeed one of the great challenges of our time. Skepticism (there is nothing good and I know it) and cynicism (I can’t trust anybody or anything and I know this) seem reasonable choices. But is this a necessary outcome or orientation for us? I think not …
The Scriptures open up for us a view of the world that is very different. There is a God. This God is the creator, and He is personal, loving, willful, and particular. We see that despite being a good creation, a disruption and disorder has occurred and the drama of redemption unfolds. But the central character here is God! It is what God does, whom God appoints, and what God decides that makes the difference. Now please don’t go rushing to theological dictionaries or well-entrenched beliefs to determine “whose” side I’m on in terms of God’s purpose and human will. I’ll tell you. I believe in both.
I have seen too much, experienced too much, read too much, and pondered too much to believe that my choices are determined, socially conditioned, or illusory. I believe they are real. However, I have also seen too much, experienced too much, read too much, and pondered too much to believe that they are, as Lewis would say, “the whole show.”
History is not a fatalist’s game. Humans do act, and often with serious and sad outcomes. The good news is that we are not alone! Writing to the Romans, the apostle Paul reminded them that hope is real because it is anchored in one who is able to carry it, sustain it, and fulfill it (Romans 8:24-25; 28-30). History is moving to an end, and the Bible offers a good end.
Thus, the difference between optimism (short term and easily overcome) and hope (eternal and anchored) is where they are rooted. One leans on human effort; the other rests in God and God’s promises.” (excerpted from a 2009 RZIM’ “Slice of Infinity”)
The other day, a certain friend “just mentioned” to Fred and me how another woman had said some pretty unkind things about us.
(There’s nothing like “sharing” information about someone that makes everyone involved look bad, is there? This friend was attacking us in a sort of passive way; the other woman was allegedly speaking ill of us to others; and now we were tempted to not think so highly of the other woman either. UGH! Gossip is insidious!)
ANYWAY … since our friend alleged that this other woman was telling people that we had “devastated” (crushed / offended / hurt) her, we knew we were into the realm of Matthew 5:23-24 (“Therefore, if you are leaving your gift in front of the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you. Leave your gift in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift.”)
Fred was SO gracious and godly as he (gently & lovingly & respectfully) explained that it was not appropriate for us to talk about the woman (or the offense or the situation) outside of her presence and that we would do our best to speak directly with her and try to work through whatever happened.
Still, Person A tried to press on … she was quite insistent on showing us (what this other person had said about) our many wrongs, pointing out our failures, explaining what terrible people we are.
Again, Fred–SO mercifully and lovingly–gently stopped her and explained that the only way that we could work through this offense would be to speak with this woman (that we had offended) directly.
A) To find out if we had offended her;
B) To confess and seek her forgiveness (as appropriate); and
C) For us all to experience the wonderful joy of living out God’s call on our lives (Col. 3) by forgiving one another.
(Oh, and if you’re wondering where I was in this situation, I think my brain completely fried-out in a fritz of, “I can’t believe this!” as my sanctification was set WAY BACK and I had to rest pretty much completely on the godliness of my husband. Hmmmmmm …. nice response by a professional Christian mediator, eh? I hope to do better next time.)
All that to say, as I later reflected on this entire exchange, I was awash in so many teaching points. (Primarily the kindness and patience of Fred shown to this person who was attacking us. Again.)
I was also mindful of my sins and failures regarding both of these people (“Confronting Us Person A” and “The Woman We Had Allegedly Devastated”). I know that I fail over and over again in my effort to edify them and share God’s grace with them.
Lastly (for this blog at least), it struck me again just how true it is that we should NEVER trust a gossip. Not only is gossip a sign of spiritual immaturity, it truly is a destructive force that pits brother against brother and destroys the unity of the Body.
(And we know that the name “Slanderer” is translated 34 times in the Bible as a title for Satan! That alone should have us shaking in our Keds.)
It is simply a truism that if someone is gossiping TO you (about someone else), you can be 100% sure that they are gossiping ABOUT you when you leave.
And how does THAT minister God’s grace in its various forms? Or build one another up according to their needs in Christ Jesus? (Ah, those pesky Ephesians 4 verses!)
How I pray that I will never gossip.
That my speech would be more like the speech of so many women in my church–SO careful. Gentle. Edifying. Loving. Wise.
That God will give me great grace towards people who attack me and I will learn to respond with gentle, God-centered mercy and abiding love.
Well. With that, I would wish you a happy Monday. (My notes for this blog article came from some random Monday in 2006 because I try hard to change random facts and dates so that I don’t inadvertently talk about real-life friends in real-life situations when I try to understand better biblical truth by applying its principles to fact patterns.)
May your weekend hit that sweet spot of diligence, hard work, and rest without guilt.
Thinking about New Year’s Resolutions? Please do NOT read this article by Ed Welch: Self-Control – The Battle Against “One More”
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, then you know that I am a huge Ed Welch fan. I think he is one of the most important and wise contemporary authors of our day. I have recommended at my events and personally sold thousands of his books. So why would I encourage you not to read this article by him if you are thinking about making New Year’s resolutions?
The answer is simple: it is too accurate. Too Scriptural. Too insightful. Too spot-on re: why the vast number of us make resolutions, but then fail to change:
- Our reckless indulgences, excesses, and greed all reveal hearts of wrong worship (idolatry). Regardless of our confessional theology (what we claim to believe), our practical theology (how we actually live) is clear: We want what we want when we want it.
- We like sin. C’mon, friends! This is an easy one. If we didn’t enjoy our excesses (at least at first), we wouldn’t do our excesses. But oh! There is some enticing, ensorcelling pleasure associated with the disordered affections we are trying to order/tame. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t need our little “resolutions”! We would just wake up one morning (usually a Monday for most of us, right?) and change.
- The more we indulge, the less pleasure we experience. God loves us too much to allow us to be satisfied with anything or anyone other than himself! And so he graciously allows us to descend into misery, pain, and even disgust and crippling shame regarding our sin—so that we might repent (remember truth!), believe (epignosis, not just gnosis), and change (change is the norm for the Believer). Our misery is is a sign of God’s covenant-keeping care!
- Our Three Enemies (Satan, the World, our Flesh) love to keep us in bondage. Our problem may have physical characteristics—especially those of us who struggle with overindulgence in mind-altering substances such as alcohol and/or drugs. But even so, our primary problem is spiritual.
And that, my friends, is why I do not want you to read Ed Welch’s article. Or Kris Lundgaard’s book (The Enemy Within: Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of Sin). Or C. Plantinga’s breviary on sin, Owen’s Mortification of Sin. And for goodness’ sake, don’t listen to Keller on Sin as Slavery.
If you do, you may find yourself tracking right through my new retreat on disordered affections (which is based on a study I have held repeatedly at my local church because I need it so badly!):
Week 1: Admitting how out of control (depressed, anxious, desperate, belligerent) we feel and wanting to change (on one level), but not really wanting to change (because we want to “protect our private cache” of sin). Feeling so stuck and so discouraged by our failures in the past (self-reproach, confession, resolution, failure—REPEAT!), that we really don’t really believe it’s even possible to change. So we keep sinning in order to relieve the distress caused by our sinning. We are caught. Trapped. In bondage.
Week 2: Deceived into believing that disobeying God and keeping God on the periphery of our lives will somehow bring us happiness and freedom, we develop a destructive tolerance to sin because the amount we needed yesterday just doesn’t satisfy today. We become liars. Bigtime justifiers. Defensively able to prove at any time why we don’t have a problem, even though our relationships and private lives are descending more and more into isolation, deception, and misery. Our experience of our relationship with God is practically non-existent. We are living as functional idolators and thus, we love the darkness.
Week 3: We admit that the problem is not the thing (the addictive substance); the problem is us … our hearts. When we are overindulging and giving into our wrong worship and greed, we are loving ourselves more than anything or anyone else in the world. What hope is there for us?! Chalmers calls it “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Melissa Kruger beautifully describes it as contentment in a covetous world. But I love the language of Powlison the best: we need innocent pleasures.
Oh, friends! So many of us have forgotten what real pleasure tastes like. We are in terrible bondage to distraction because we have not learned how to face and address our pain—we live life just trying to dull our pain through things that leave a “residue, an oily stain; contain a quality of obsession, guilt, anxiety, and disappointment.” But we can change. We can learn how to feel our feelings again! We can grieve, wail, and mourn—and not be afraid that our weeping will have no end.
If we allow our hearts to split open and pour out, we will find at the deepest part of our loneliness and pain, not a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:14) … but instead, we will find Jesus. Our Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53), who knows our pain (and knows a pain we will never know!), cares deeply for us, and who makes a way for us to “with confidence draw near the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Our right worship of Jesus is the foundation for our turning away from our guilty, exhausting, stained “pleasures” and instead, discovering anew the innocent, real pleasures of life that truly comfort, nourish, and help us find rest for our souls.
Oh, man. This blog post is already wayyyyy too long, so I’ll just let you click through to week 4 and week 5 if you are so inclined. And I’ll begin to conclude by quoting my second favorite contemporary author (tied with Ed Welch, whom I obviously really DO hope you will read and read and read)—Kevin DeYoung—in his excellent book, The Hole in Our Holiness:
“Among conservative Christians there is sometimes the mistaken notion that if we are truly gospel-centered we won’t talk about rules or imperatives or moral exertion. We are so eager not to confuse indicatives (what God has done) and imperatives (what we should do) that we get leery of letting biblical commands lead uncomfortably to conviction of sin. We’re scared of words like diligence, effort and duty.”
“The reality is that holiness is plain hard work, and we’re often lazy. We like our sins, and dying to them is painful. Almost everything is easier than growing in godliness.”
How true! Growing in godliness is hard. But for the Christian, it is also guaranteed (Romans 8:29).
So get in the battle (Ephesians 6)! As you rest (Psalm 62:5). Make war to put to death (Colossians 3) that which has already been defeated (Romans 6). Work hard! But remember that it’s not you who works hard, but God (1 Corinthians 15:10).
And always, always, always, remember the true character, the true heart, the GLORY of the One True God (from Exodus 34:6-7):
God is “the Lord, the Lord; the compassionate and gracious God.
Slow to anger, God abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness.
God maintains love for thousands and forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin …”
We may tire of forgiving people, but God never tires of forgiving his covenant children. We may get sick of showing mercy to people who don’t deserve it (the very definition of mercy, right?), but God never tires of showing mercy.
I’ll give Ed Welch the last word, since I used his name in the title of this blog to emphasize the opposite of what I really hope (his works are excellent and among the few books that I re-read often!):
“Your struggle is a common one, but we have a God Who delights in showering an abundance of mercy on those who ask for mercy. Those who ask for mercy receive an abundance of mercy.”
So go ahead. Ask for mercy and help. Again. (And again and again.) Don’t be afraid! Your Heavenly Father loves you and he will never give up on you.
With so much love and so many prayers—
If you’re more of an auditory learner, so my zillion links contained in this post feel overwhelming (rather than encouraging), I hope you will disregard all 1,300 words of this too-long post and simply listen to this one sermon:
Yes, yes, yes! A thousands times, yes.
My most-requested retreat is currently my “Disordered Affections” retreat. You can learn more about it here:
*** INITIAL POST FROM NOVEMBER 14 *** ASKING FOR PRAYERS FOR UPGRADES SO WE COULD BRING GIFTS ***
In exactly one week, my twelve year-old daughter and I will be flying on the first flight of our journey to Uganda. If all goes well, our routing will take us from Billings, Montana to Salt Lake City, Detroit, Amsterdam, Rwanda, and into Entebbe.
I am writing today to ask you to PLEASE consider praying for us to be upgraded on just ONE flight. Now. I fully recognize that I may sound like an entitled jerk and a terrible missionary to ask for such a thing. And maybe I am—but please allow me to at least try to convnince you that there is actually a righteous reason for my request …
No. We are not asking for an upgrade for the 11+ hour flight with the fancy lie-flat beds. Or the 8.5 hour flight that comes AFTER we have already been in airports and on airplanes for over 36 hours. Again. Nope. No way.
We are praying for an upgrade on our shortest flight (BIL-SLC, around 1 hr) because if that clears, we get to take an extra 100 lbs of gifts to Uganda!! Peacemaking/Relational Wisdom resources, medical supplies, feminine care products, school supplies, and soccer balls for the 180+ children who are expected to attend the women’s conference (at which Sophie and I are speaking) with their mothers … and more!
The rules for our airline are that each passenger gets two 50-lb checked bags, so Sophie and I are planning to live out of our carryons and use our entire checked luggage allowance for gifts for Uganda. If we clear even ONE upgrade, our checked baggage allowance jumps to THREE. How great would that be?! An extra 100 lbs of gifts!
If you are so inclined, would you please join us in praying for this strange prayer request for an upgrade? Thanks to your astoundingly generous gifts, our dining room overfloweth with goodies that need to be packed in the next few days. It would help us so much to have that extra “wiggle room” and space of 100 lbs and two more boxes/bags. If the Lord wills!
Thank you thank you thank you!
Much, much love—
If you’d like to pray for other things related to our time serving in Uganda, here is a quick overview of our schedule:
- Monday, Nov 14: Depart at 5:50AM — arriving Entebbe Tuesday evening around 11:00PM + 3 hour drive to village
- Wed-Thur-Fri: Both Sophie and Tara meet with the women in their homes to visit, read the Bible, and pray together
- Saturday, Nov 19: Tara meets with the men of the community to discuss biblical peacemaking and other issues related to the women’s conference topics
- Sunday, Nov 20: Sophie and Tara teach at the women’s conference
- Monday, Nov 21: Sophie and Tara participate in a dedication service for the new Life and Peace Children’s Hospital
- Midnight, Monday — depart Entebbe, arriving Billings (Lord willing!) Tuesday evening, November 22
If you have no idea what any of this is talking about, you can read more about our trip on our GoFundMe pages:
God answered your prayers with a “YES!” and we were able to bring NINE suitcases and boxes stuffed with gifts for the village of Kibisi, Uganda. Thank you so, so very much!!
You can read all about our service project in Uganda on this page of my website, and you can even see photos and videos of the boxes and suitcases filled with gifts and being shared with the Ugandans here.
Thanks to YOU, the women leaders in Uganda are going to be able to DOUBLE the number of young ladies in their computer / tech classes. In just a few short weeks, we have already raised funds for the three most immediately at-risk girls TO GET TO STAY IN SCHOOL (!!) and we are prayerfully working hard to try to find the $30/month (or the $50/month) to keep the other at-risk elementary and secondary girls in school—safe and tucked away from their only other potential futures: the child-bride “marriages” to alcoholic, abusive, polygamous men who will abandon them and their children to destitution.
If you have a few spare moments and you would like to share your advice with us re: how we should apply for grants, private family foundation funding, NGOs, any honorable source of funding!!, we would be so grateful for your counsel. Or may you are ready to take the leap and fund a girl’s education at $30/month! Please just click on the “Getting Involved” tab or drop us a line: tara “at” tarabarthel “dot” “com.”
THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!! WE ARE ON OUR KNEES IN GRATITUDE AND WE LOVE YOU SO MUCH!!
Countless descriptions exist for personality types. Some of us are “high strung”; others are “low key.” We can be “linear,” “drivers,” or “random creatives,” etc. etc.
For those of us parenting pre-teens and teens we may even see some of them going in and out of these various personalities over and over again in the same day. Sometimes even in the same HOUR. (Some of you understand what I am saying there.)
Of course, as Christians, we never want to use our personality type as an excuse for lovelessness. (“I’m an introvert, so I don’t introduce myself to people at church on Sunday morning.” Uh. No no no. That’s not the way it works. We introverts just have to overcome our comfort zone and get on out there and say hello. It may FEEL like it will kill us, but it will not. And it is the right, appropriate, and loving thing to do.)
We also never want to take our propensities for granted and be slothful about using our gifts for God’s glory and love of neighbor. (“Oh! I’m super comfortable talking on a stage or writing/blogging, so I’m just going to give you my FIRST DRAFT off the top of my head thoughts.” Again. No no no. Excellence takes effort. Anything worth doing takes concerted effort. And you may not think that your audience can tell when you are “phoning it in, as it were,” but your real-life friends, your thoughtful readers, and especially your editor (!), are all keenly aware when you slap us with your “top of the head / no carefully edited blather.”
We know and you know that you can do better. So please hold the draft; give it a little time; put in a little review; and then bless us with your ready-for-public-consumption-insights. We are eager to read them!
On the flipside, I would now like to turn my attention to the super-duper-OVERLY-diligent people—especially pre-teens and teens, but let’s go ahead and stretch the application into adulthood too …
Let’s talk a bit about people of excellence who take their stewardship duties so seriously as they strive to do all things as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23), that all too often, they paralyze themselves into doing NOTHING because they take things WAY TOO FAR in the ol’ “Gotta Get This JUST RIGHT mindset.
Sometimes this is described as “perfectionism.” The bible calls it “The Fear of Man” (Prov. 29:25). We can say we have “low self-esteem” or are bound by “peer pressure” such that we simply cannot imagine putting ANYTHING we do “out there” where people are going to crush it. Criticize it. Or even worse—just ignore it.
Oh, friends. The dark alley of obsessively-demanding, unrealistic, soul-crushing, adrenaline-induced and adrenaline-inducing, FEAR is the exact SNARE that Prov. 29:25 warns us about.
A few months ago, I tiptoed way too close to that snare. It wasn’t pleasant. Here’s what happened:
“Oh no! Oh no! Oh no! OH NO!” I whispered into my eleven year-old daughter’s ears as we had a brief break in the green room backstage of a formal piano recital for a Rhodes Scholar pianist, wherein my only job was to turn pages.
“Did you see my COMPLETE AND UTTER FAILURE during the Bach piece?!”
“Um, no, Mom,” Sophie replied. “I have no idea what you are talking about. Everything in the entire recital, but especially the Bach, went off without a hitch. It was lovely. Complex and relaxing. Steady and surprising. All of the things we both enjoy about Bach. So … to what are you referring?”
“OK. Well. Here’s the truth. I’m mortified to admit it, but … there was this terrible D.S. al Coda that wasn’t clearly marked and, even with all of the practice I did before the recital, under the stage lights, I didn’t see it until MEASURES before the page turn so I wasn’t PERFECTLY standing and 100% ready for a smooth turn like I always try to be.”
“Did you make the page turns OK?” Sophie asked.
“So if I’m understanding you correctly, Mom, what you’re saying is that you ALMOST had an error, but you DIDN’T because you made the page turn just fine. The musician played without a hitch. No one in the audience had any idea that anything was even at risk. The ‘utter, completely disastrous failure’ was avoided and the only person who even had an inkling of a possible problem was you. Is that right?”
Sophie’s compassionate, but spot-on look was all I needed to begin to laugh even at myself.
You see, when we equate a “near miss” with a “complete and utter fail of abject DISASTER,” we are pretty much guaranteeing a miserable life for ourselves and for the people around us.
Sometimes we really do blow it! And when that happens, we need to address it. But flooding our hearts (inner man) and bodies (outer man) with crushing adrenaline and soul-annihilating pain over something that MOST people didn’t even notice? Someting that didn’t even happen? That’s just wasted energy.
Let’s learn to be as kind to ourselves as we are to others! Please! Try to give yourself a break this day. Work had. Be diligent. But don’t allow the bondage of perfectionism enslave you, OK?
Life is far too complex. And you are far too precious!
I’ll close with an encouragement from 1 Thessalonians 5:
“Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and do work with your hands …
Be at peace among yourselves. Admonish the idle. Encourage the fainthearted.
Help the weak. Be patient with them all.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely,
and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept
blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
(Excerpts from 1 Thess 5:12-24, ESV)
I was SO excited to learn from my friend, Deb W, that Amazon currently has a huge sale going for the e-version of my first book: Peacemaking Women: Biblical Hope for Resolving Conflict.
To see how the book lines up with the women’s DVD video series, please click here.
And of course I am still offering the foundational “Women and Grace” peacemaking women’s retreat, even as my new publications and retreats continue to roll out …
May God be glorified and his daughters encouraged!
(I don’t receive any revenue for you clicking on the link to Amazon. This is truly just a heads-up from a friend because I would love to bless you by getting you this book for the least possible cost. I hope it is a blessing to you! Sending my love!!)
From D.A. Carson’s book, Love in Hard Places (bold and italicized emphases mine):
Not all Christians face persecuting enemies, but all Christians face little enemies. We encounter people whose personality we intensely dislike—
– an obstreperous deacon or church leader
– a truly revolting relative
– an employee or employer who specializes in insensitivity, rudeness, and general arrogance
– people with whom you have differed on some point of principle who take all differences in a deeply personal way and who nurture bitterness for decades, stroking their own self-righteousness and offended egos as they go
– insecure little people who resent and try to tear down those who are even marginally more competent than they
– the many who lust for power and call it principle
– the arrogant who are convinced of their own brilliance and of the stupidity of everyone else
The list is easily enlarged. They are offensive, sometimes repulsive, especially when they belong to the same church.
It often seems safest to leave by different doors, to cross the street when you see them approaching, or to find eminently sound reasons not to invite them to any of your social gatherings. And if, heaven forbid, you accidentally bump into such an enemy, the best defense is a spectacularly English civility, coupled with a retreat as hasty as elementary decency permits. After all, isn’t ‘niceness’ what is demanded? . . .
In many instances, what is required is simply forbearance driven by love. No one puts it more forcefully than Paul:
‘Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col. 3:12–14)
To bear with one another and to forgive grievances presupposes that relationships will not always be smooth. Most of the time, what is required is not the confrontation of Matthew 18, but forbearance, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience. Christians are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). . . .
That brings us to three reflections.
First, this loving of awkward people, first of all those within the household of faith but then also outsiders, is sometimes grounded not on God’s providential love (as in Matt. 5:43–47), but on a distinctively Christian appeal. . . . ‘Forgive as the Lord forgave you’—a frank appeal to the Christian’s experience of grace.
Second, in practical terms this love for ‘little enemies’ is sometimes (though certainly not always) more difficult than love for big enemies, for persecuting enemies. . . .
Third . . . there is a frankly evangelistic function to Christian love …
Preach it, Dr. Carson!
And here’s one more link that might prove helpful/encouraging for any of us who are facing some “difficult people” in our lives:
(I think this is my all-time favorite CCEF article. If I could staple it to my head—or better yet, inscribe it on my heart, I would!)
Our family has been profoundly blessed by Megan Hill’s book on prayer:
It was my joy to write a whole-hearted endorsement of this excellent book. If you would like biblical encouragement and motivation—as well as practical, real-life helps—for your prayer life, look no further! Megan’s book is a treasure.
So you can imagine, then, how honored I was to receive her (very supporitve) endorsement of my latest book: Redeeming Church Conflicts. I will copy the entire endorsement below, but first I just wanted to say a personal thank you to Megan.
Megan, you have encouraged me in our writer’s group, blessed me personally during my time serving your women at your recent retreat, and even now, though I am shaking-in-my-Keds as I stumble my way through your husband’s Reformed Theological Seminary course on “The Gospels,” I am being built up in my inner being and strengthened with power through God’s Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3). Plus, the footnotes in the readings alone are delightful!
You (and your family) have been and are a genuine encouragement to me, Megan. You pour courage into my heart. Thank you! Thanks so very much, Megan.
For the glory of the Lamb—
Your sister in Christ,
*************MEGAN HILL’S ENDORSEMENT OF “REDEEMING CHURCH CONFLICTS” *************
“To someone in the middle of a church conflict, the complex knot of spiritual and material issues, contributing factors, and personalities can appear impossible to understand, let alone untangle. As emotions rise and hope sinks, everyone in the church experiences distress, and, amid the confusion and hurt, a positive path forward often seems unclear.
In Redeeming Church Conflicts, experienced conciliators Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling offer a warm, biblical, and careful roadmap for navigating church crises. Through exposition and application, they bring the truth of God’s Word to direct suffering churches toward healing. Through practical case studies, they illuminate the way with specific examples.
Perhaps surprisingly for a book about sin and its fruits, these pages are also filled with hope.
Through the words of Barthel and Edling, church members and leaders will begin to see their conflicts as opportunities for growth, grace, and the glory of God. And whether your church is currently in the midst of strife or proactively seeking to avoid it in future, this book is an excellent guide.”
-Megan Hill, pastor’s wife, pastor’s daughter, writer, speaker, author of Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches (Crossway, 2016)
Angry people are sometimes sinfully angry; and sometimes angry people are fearful people who have no idea how frightened (and frightening) they are.
Avoidance of duties may be sinful laziness and sloth, but sometimes it can be genuine exhaustion that comes from our trying (consciously or unconsciously) to stomp down and avoid deep grief and pain.
Some of us are sinfully proud and foolish re: receiving criticism; but some of us want to listen to criticism and want to be readily teachable and growing in wisdom, but the graceless criticism of today sometimes presses on a shaming memory with such ferocity that even we are shocked by how quickly and high we “jump” or “kick” emotionally in response.
Like the shock of having a deep bruise or fresh surgical sutures knocked into, sometimes a color. A scent. An image. A touch. One specific word may tip us into a valley of despair and darkness that has very, very little to do with our present circumstance. Sometimes, our seemingly out-of-proportion reactions are God’s gracious way of helping us to understand and address complex pain in our complex hearts (i.e., what the Bible describes as our mind, soul, or inner man).
For me, this week, I have had repeated opportunities to turn to the Lord with intimate cries for help, gratitude for his covenantal love, and increasing hope and assurance from his Word, because wow! Did I initially overreact to my daughter’s suffering tied to high fevers.
Yes, yes. Our family is currently dealing with the gunk of a bad virus, just like so many other families in our community. No, this is not “terrible suffering” like the “real suffering” of people in much-more-serious circumstances. But yes, this is “terrible suffering” and “real suffering” for our life circumstance, for this day, for this season. It’s exhausting to have high fevers day after day, night after night. It’s miserable to be sick and it’s miserable to be the mom who can’t protect her child from being sick.
But for me, Tara Barthel, this normal, not-too-dramatic, suffering-related-to-a-child-having-a-little-virus/bug has a layer of pain related to it that has absolutely nothing to do with 2016 and everything to do with specific memories from my childhood (in the 1970’s). Why does this matter? Because as soon as my husband and I recognized that I wasn’t just exhausted from being up all week with my sick child, I was also grieving anew a past suffering, we—Fred and I—could take a few extra steps to be sure we were not only ministering to our child, we were caring for me, too.
Thankfully, it only took us a few days into our daughter’s illness to recognize that her sleep disturbances were reminding me of some of my worst childhood night terrors, sleeptalking, sleep-moaning-and-crying-out-for-help-weeping, and sleep walking right out of my childhood home.
(I can still taste those nightmares from 35+ years ago! Adrenaline really does have such a searing effect on memories.)
Every time my daughter’s fever went into the 104 range this week, I wasn’t just trying to determine if the ice-pack on her forehead was sufficient or whether we should put her into a tepid bath, I was also vividly flashing back to the hard metal tubs with the clanging latches that were both the instruments of my torture and my rescue in the emergency rooms of my childhood.
(If you haven’t had bags of ice poured onto your 105+ degree’d body, it may be a little hard to understand the confusion and terror of being a five year-old shaking uncontrollably from being SO hot and SO cold at the exact same time—and wondering why the grownups in the room “weren’t helping.” They were, of course, helping. But it sure didn’t feel like it at the time.)
No, I wasn’t undone by these memories this week. They were mostly just revving in the background of my days and nights of typical maternal concern and care. But last night, Fred wisely urged me to tuck into the bed in our tiny basement (far away from our daughters’ room), entrust the every-two-hour-medicine schedule to him, and sleep. Cry if I needed to. Pray. Turn off the hypervigilance-momma-meter and just rest.
I am grateful that Fred was sensitive to not only the normal difficulties of this week, but also the deeper layers of pain related to my past experiences. I truly think that we would all be wise to try to remember that people’s actions and reactions may have elements that are tied to complex, past pain. To quote a passage for Peacemaking Women:
We often experience suffering on two different levels. The pain from the current situation may ‘tap into’ our past experiences …
When our experience of pain seems disproportional to the actual situation we are in, we need to look deep into our own hearts to see if a life-forming trauma might be surfacing in the current conflict. Sometimes we may even need help to do so because our pain may cloud our vision and make it difficult to see clearly. Grief and despair, while rooted in past hurts, can be reflected powerfully in current circumstances and present suffering.
Of course, even as we seek to gain wisdom and insight about our complex pain, our suffering never gives us an excuse to sin. God calls us to honor him regardless of our past or present circumstances. As David Powlison reminds us, ‘Knowledge of a person’s history may be important for many reasons (compassion, understanding, knowledge of characteristic temptations), but it never determines the heart’s inclinations.’
Amen & Amen!
What JOY there is in knowing that one day, in Glory, there will be no more tears and no more grief; no more sin and no more unbelief. No more pain! When we see the Lord with unveiled faces (2 Cor 3:18), we will be like him. Oh, how I long for that day!
But in this life, God has sanctified us (definitive sanctification) and he is sanctifying us (progressive sanctification). One aspect of our growth in grace is learning to lament — to grieve with hope. For complex, deep pain? This grieving may feel like the peeling of layers of an onion … in his perfect timing (which we often don’t understand at the time), God lovingly helps us to peel back the layers of our sorrow or grief so that we can experience an even deeper sense of His presence, goodness, wholeness, and Shalom.
One day, in Heaven, the “onion” of pain will be gone forever and completely because our suffering will be over. But in this life, we grow and change. This life is often a life of complex grief. Fear and faith. Risk and pain. Risk and love. “Not health, but healing; not being, but becoming” to use the language of Martin Luther.
Please know, friends, that I am praying for you great hope and great comfort as you grieve and lament the complex pain of your lives.
God really is always working together all things for his glory and our good. Even—nay, especially—the painful things. Oh, that we would have eyes to see and ears to hear! That we would “understand with our hearts, turn, and be healed” (Matthew 13:15) by the One True, Triune God.
Sending my love—
There is a wonderful book coming out on this very topic in just a few short weeks now: “A Heart Set Free – A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament”, by my dear friend, Christina Fox.
Great wisdom from Cap’n Dave over at RedeemingChurchConflicts.com today:
A. You can be God’s instrument in redeeming your church’s conflicts by humbly depending on the Holy Spirit and following the biblical principles revealed in Scripture.
Every church conflict can be redeemed because every church conflict can be used for genuine spiritual growth, both individually and corporately within the body of Christ. Christ can use you to redeem your church’s conflict—regardless of how other people respond, even if you are only one lay member out of hundreds or even thousands, even if you are only one leader out of many. You can be God’s instrument in redeeming your church’s conflicts by following the biblical principles revealed in Holy Scripture—in humble dependence on the Holy Spirit.
Church conflict is complex. The various causes of church conflict, the personalities involved, the church’s polity, and the level of spiritual maturity among leaders and members will raise questions that no one book or biblical model could possibly address with specificity. Therefore, be carefuland pray as you seek counsel from church leaders and members about the application of this book and various Scriptural passages to your church’s specific situation. By seeking counsel from wise and spiritually mature Christians, all of us will hopefully avoid using any part of this book as a weapon to hurt others or fulfill any sinful demands we might have. Plenty of biblical peacemaking principles have been taken out of context and forced on others in loveless and selfish ways. We pray that will never be the case with this Acts 15 model. Instead, we pray that our efforts in this book will encourage and guide Christians and their churches in redemptive responses to conflicts—responses that are based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Theologian Dr. Dennis Johnson hits the nail on the head when he writes:
In Scripture the starting point of instruction on right behavior is not a list of our duties, but a declaration of God’s saving achievement, bringing us into a relationship of favor with him.
(c) Tara Barthel & David Edling, “Redeeming Church Conflicts” (first edition, Baker Books, 2012; second edition, Hendrickson Publishers, 2016) www.RedeemingChurchConflicts.com